Chenin Blanc is known as South Africa’s workhouse grape. In other words, we have a lot of it, so as a consequence it hasn’t been highly prized by farmers as a grape, or by consumers as a wine. Ken Forrester is a guy who’s dedicated much of his wine career to changing that perception and showing that Chenin Blanc wines can be both special and sought-after.
The Ken Forrester Vineyards Somerset West farm grows lovely old Chenin vines. The wine focus is fashioned around Chenin too, from an inexpensive off-dry commercial quaffer Petit Chenin (around R40) to elegant Old Vine Reserve Chenin with natural yeasts fermented predominantly in older barrels so it doesn’t kill the grape flavours with oak (the 2012 is R75). At the wine geek end of the spectrum, for those who practically want to dive into their glass, the full-blown, rich style called The FMC (the superb 2011 is R325) is the business. Ken Forrester also makes a Chenin dessert sticky Noble Late Harvest T (2010 is R220).
And now for something fun. With colourful stripes and patterns inspired by a carnival carousel, it’s a wine designed to be drunk and not to be too serious about. Ken Forrester Sparklehorse Chenin Blanc MCC just made its debut. It will always be a vintage wine, and the maiden 2011 costs R120. The catch is it’s available only from the tasting room. Good excuse for a road trip.
“The old workhorse grape has been reworked in South Africa, so this is our sparklehorse,” says Forrester. Grapes from a 38-year-old Chenin vineyard block on the farm are picked early, spend 14 months on the lees, and produce only 12.5% alcohol in the bottle. It’s lovely and dry, with yellow Golden Delicious flavours and green Granny Smith apple crispness and acidity. It’s refreshing and I like it. What do you think?